"Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven" (Matt. 18:3).
In our last message we spoke of the essentiality of conversion if we are to enter the Kingdom of heaven, and we began to look at the conversion of the dying thief, - typical, we said, of all true and genuine conversions of the kind to which Christ was referring. We mentioned that there were three clear steps in that conversion, but we only dealt with the first of these, - Namely that the thief CAME TO SEE WHO JESUS WAS, - the Blessed Son of God and the Glorious King of kings. That, we said, is where all true conversion begins; - we come to see Who Jesus is. Now follows the second step, - equally essential to true conversion, and vividly illustrated in our story.
HE CAME TO SEE WHO HE HIMSELF WAS, - and what he was.
This, we would say, was equally a miracle, but not unrelated to the first, and, in fact, a consequence of it. Luke's record shows us that, toward the end of the crucifixion scene, the thief we are considering called out to the thief on the other side (who was still continuing with his blasphemies against Christ) and said, "Dost thou not fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds"(Luke 23:40,41). We emphasize those closing words, where, evidently including himself, he spoke of their common guilt; "we are dying justly". Here, obviously, is a personal admission of sinnership, - another vital step in his conversion. Probably, until that point, he had always protested his own innocence, - but now it is different, - he admits that he is dying justly, and fully deserving of all that has come to him. He is finally taking sides with the law, and against himself. In the Light of Christ, he has also seen himself, - another miracle. The Bible says, "in thy light shall we see light"(Psa.36: 9), and it is a fact that, once we begin to see the glory of God's Son, we begin to see, as well, the depravity of our own hearts. People who go on insisting on their own "righteousness" are only advertising how blind they are. Certainly they have not "seen" Christ! We recall that when the prophet Isaiah saw the glory of the Lord, he cried out, "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, ...for mine eyes have seen the King" (lsa.6: 1-5). Thank God, there was an immediate cleansing waiting for him (vs.6, 7), and so there is for us.
We say again that this principle of "seeing who we are" is basic to every true conversion. The Bible says, "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" Rom.3: 23), and we read, too, "There is none righteous, no, not one"(Rom.3: 10). Thank God, the dying thief finally "saw" it, and once he openly confessed it, he stood at the very threshold of heaven. Well has it been said that "If we justify ourselves, God will condemn us, but if we condemn ourselves, God will justify us". And yet again, "if we will take the sinner's place, we shall find the sinner's pardon", - and all, we would add, through the atoning blood of Christ.
Some may be inclined to argue, "But I am not a thief". That itself is questionable, but does not the Bible also speak of "robbing God" (Mal.3:8)? We must remember that, by right, each one of us is God's property, both by creation and redemption (lsa.43: 1), and, when we live our lives as if we were our own, and giving little or no thought to our Creator and Redeemer, we are making ourselves robbers of the worst kind! But, thank God, dying thieves can be converted, - and such, indeed, we are. O for grace to see ourselves as God sees us, and to repeat the cry, "We are dying justly". How wonderful it is when any sinner sees his sinnership, and admits, at last, that he fully deserves the condemnation of God's law.
Now we come to the third and final step of the thief's conversion. This was when, out of the depths of his need.
HE CALLED ON THE NAME OF THE LORD.
Having "seen" Who Jesus was, and beginning to see who he himself was, he called out personally to the Saviour for grace and mercy. His actual words were, "Lord, REMEMBER ME when Thou comest Into Thy kingdom" (Luke 23:42). This, evidently, is something that the Lord asks for. It is our personal cry of need that brings down His supply of grace. When, on the day of Pentecost, Peter concluded his powerful message on the Person of Christ (His death and resurrection), he declared "And ...whosoever shall CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD shall be saved" (Acts 2:21). Paul, too, explaining the gospel in his letter to the Romans, repeats the same promise (Rom.10: 13). This, evidently is God's appointed way, and the secret of true conversion. It is not a matter of "joining a new religion", nor is it some vigorous effort to change our own "life-style". It is not even reading the Bible, or "saying prayers", or, shall we! Say, attending the Christian meetings. That may all come afterwards, but conversion itself come when, as needy sinners we go personally to the Lord Himself and call on His Name for salvation.
We ask you, then, have you taken that third; and final step? Do you now see that Jesus is, indeed, the Great Son of God and King of kings? Do you now see that you are a sinner, - the sinner for whom He came to die? And will you, at this moment, kneel down before that wonderful and living Savior, beseeching His mercy and forgiveness? Those three words of the thief, "Lord remember me" would be quite sufficient, - provided they come from the heart. Thank God, the thief did not have to wait long for his answer. The very next verse gives the loving reply of Christ, "Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with Me in paradise" (Lk.23: 43). Call on Him now, trusting in His Redeeming blood, which was shed for you at Calvary. You, too, will be genuinely converted, and will b "WITH CHRIST IN PARADISE". Do not delay; come NOW!
THE RUNAWAY SERVANT OF GOD
“For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here" (Matt. 12:40,41).
The story of Jonah is a true story recorded by the Holy Spirit, and the Lord Jesus himself made reference to it while He was speaking to the Pharisees. We find many lessons in this short story. The first great lesson is how the God of love shows His love and patience in His own way in seeking us till we come to Him and learn to understand His ways. But we, in our folly, want to run away from Him. We think that we shall be better off by running away from God, than by obeying Him.
God gave Jonah the great task of going to Nineveh to preach repentance (Jonah 1: 1, 2). It is indeed an honor to be God's co-workers. But Jonah did not realize what a great honor and privilege God as conferring on him. Rather than being thankful, Jonah ran away! Suppose a clerk is suddenly promoted to be the governor of a state, would he refuse it? No, he would accept it gladly and thankfully. Yet, just as Jonah ran away from the honorable task given to him by God, many young people run away from God's command for the sake of some worldly gain or pleasure.
We do not know the real reason why Jonah ran away at that time. May be he thought that the people would not believe him? May be other people gave him wrong advice. Many servants of God run away when they are told to go to a place, which is not convenient to their families because of the persuasion of their wives. Some wives look very quiet and simple, yet their husbands have to tremble before them. This may not be true in your case, but it might have been true in Jonah's case. How many young men have been called by the Lord for His service, but they thought that by taking up some secular job they would be in a position to serve Him better. Only afterwards have they learnt how much loss they incurred by their disobedience to God. It is quite clear that the Lord had commanded and commissioned Jonah to preach repentance to the people of Nineveh. He was a God- fearing man, as he himself testified (Jonah 1: 9). But he disobeyed God and ran away from His presence. Those who do not have a deep experience of God fail to understand what He speaks to them, and so they do not obey Him fully. Jonah imagined certain things about God and was angry with Him. He did not understand God's ways and purposes, so he disobeyed God. In the same way, many people fear God, but they do not understand His ways or His will, so they do many things against God's will.
The God of love, mercy and grace, lovingly and patiently brought back Jonah into His perfect plan. For this purpose, first of all, He sent a tempestuous wind, and this grew into a great storm on the sea. It appeared as if the whole ship would sink. But God's hand was on the people who were in the ship. God loves us, and uses many ways to draw us to Himself.
When the Lord sent a tempestuous wind, all the passengers in the ship began to cry and shout. They even called upon their gods, but nothing happened. The storm did not abate. We do not know how many there were in the ship. They all cried and prayed, but the storm only grew worse. It is only those who know God by personal experience that can pray with faith, and have the confidence and assurance that their prayers would be answered. Though Jonah was a backslider, he was far better than the others in the ship. He feared "the Lord, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land"(Jonah 1: 9).
The shipmaster went to Jonah and said, "What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not" (Jonah 1: 6). But Jonah had to confess to the en that he was the cause of that storm (Jonah 1: 8-12). He told them how he was running away from God's command. He humbled himself. He was ready for any punishment, which God would send upon him. He realized how much loss and suffering he had brought upon all those who were in the ship. Those who desire to walk according to God's Word, know by experience how disobedience on their part involves the lives of others and causes them undeserved suffering.